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Connection Between Farms, Schools Would Grow Under New Legislation

Students in hundreds of schools in Indiana participate in farm-to-school activities. (farmtoschool.org)
Students in hundreds of schools in Indiana participate in farm-to-school activities. (farmtoschool.org)
September 11, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- New legislation would boost a program that connects students in more than 1,400 Hoosier schools to local farmers.

The Farm to School Act of 2017 would expand the existing USDA Farm to School Grant Program by improving access to local foods at schools. Maximilian Merrill with the National Farm to School Network called it a win-win: Farmers source their food to schools and students learn about agriculture.

"Students participate in educational activities related to agriculture, food and nutrition and health - and school gardens,” Merrill said; "so students engage in hands-on learning through gardening, so they understand where their food comes from and the difficulty it is to grow that healthy food."

The bill asks for funding to be increased annually for the program from $5 million to $15 million to better meet demand for the program.

The Indiana Farm to School Network was created in 2012 as a collaboration of Hoosiers dedicated to connecting family farms and schools through education, local food purchasing, and outreach.

The Farm to School Act of 2017 would expand the program to summer food service program sites and after school programs, and encourage farm-to-school partnerships between tribal schools and tribal producers.

Merrill said the program helps boost farmers' bottom lines.

"In 2013-2014, that school year, there was $790 million of local foods purchased from farmers, ranchers and fishermen,” he said. "And if you look at the multiplying factor, that leads to over $1 billion pushed into the local economy."

The bill also would improve program participation among new, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN